Infrastructure, Debt, and Cannabis Highlight all-Candidates Forum for Elk Point Byelection

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The aspiring candidates for the open seat on Elk Point Town Council delivered their platform, and answered questions on the town’s most important issues at the all-candidates forum Wednesday night.

Tim Smereka, Jason Boorse, Sherry Oszust, Bernice Capjack, and Henry Botting all declared their hope to replace  Sherry Bower-Gagne on council, who resigned after accepting a job in Lloydminster. The candidates responded to questions about bringing new industry to Elk Point, the town’s debt, the airport, the upcoming decriminalization of marijuana, and the town’s strategic plan.

Each candidate recognized a need to diversify the economy outside of the oil industry, including the most senior candidate running, Henry Botting, who said that the “town is dying,” and is “relying to much on the oil patch.”

Sherry Oszust, owner of Kelly’s Closet, agreed – but sees more issues with the town as a whole.

“I see of a lack of commitment for supporting their local businesses,” said Oszust. “I think it’s one of the biggest problems in town. And debt-load – there’s lots you can’t do when you are deep in debt.”

One of the major disagreements between candidates was on the airport, which Oszust sees as an area the town can cut. The 2018 Elk Point Capital Budget has $540,000 listed to spend from the category of “other and provincial/federal grants.” The total expense of the airport in the 2018 operating budget was $144,850.00.

Tim Smereka, who’s worked in the oil industry for over twenty years, says from his experience the few accomodations in town is to blame for the airport not being busy.

“When people were coming into Elk Point they weren’t staying here. They couldn’t fly-in, so they’d go to Lloyd. So instead of staying in Elk Point and using our businesses and places to stay – one – we don’t have any for people to stay – but the other side is there’s nothing here for them,” said Smereka.

“If we want to draw business into Elk Point we need those facilities. If you send them to Bonnyville or Lloydminster, you aren’t going to get them here.”

Jason Boorse, General leader of 4H multi-club, and President of Elk Point Lions Club, thinks the airport is a matter of “build it and they will come,” and that’s why council has budgeted for it in the next few years.

Bernice Capjack, who has close to 20 years experience on council agreed: “I think if we’re going to move forward we need that airport.”

The town’s failing infrastructure was another key issue raised. Boorse believes that working with other levels of government over the next two years can help with that.

“We have to go there with a shovel ready project in place, saying we need this amount of money, for this road, etc. And then, how do we get this done?’” said Boorse.

The decriminalization of cannabis is arriving soon federally, although each candidate was apprehensive about the ramifications it will have socially.

“If there was some way we could grow marijuana in this town that might not be a bad thing. And making some money,” said Botting.

Oszust disagreed. “That’s probably one industry I wouldn’t really support in town.”

““I’m not a big fan of manufacturing happiness,” said Boorse. “It’s coming whether you want it or not and we have to be on top of it. If we don’t do it than other municipalities are going to it.”

Smereka added that the town will, “have to do our due diligence on it.”

Capjack was curious to see how other municipalities are handling the legalization.

Each council member, when asked, highlighted the strength of Elk Point’s health care compared to other neighboring towns, and were supportive of bringing a third doctor to town.

However, the majority of questions asked during the forum regarded the town’s debt and infrastructure.

“When you compare ourselves to other municipalities, we don’t have the services like they do, but pay more taxes. Why would they live here when they can live in St. Paul? Even water…we pay double what they do,” said Boorse.

“We are sitting at $1.8 million in debt and that’s got to end,” said Oszust. “If I ran my business I wouldn’t have lasted two years. Something’s gotta change. We need more common sense.”

The byelection is June 12. The entire forum can be watched in its entirety on Lakeland Connect’s Facebook page.